During a lecture about the concept of non-possessiveness in yoga, our teacher started telling a story about a man and his loincloth. As soon as he started, I knew I’d heard this story before, and for a few seconds, I actually thought I was having some sort of paranormal experience.
We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the paranormal skills (“superpowers”) that can develop if you master some yoga postures and yogic principles, like non-theft, non-violence, truthfulness. I thought that maybe I was having a deja-vu, or that in some strange way, traditional notions of time had collapsed so that I was revisiting a lecture I’d already heard somehow. But as he continued telling the story, I remembered: I just read the story last week in a book of short articles by Paulo Coelho. I picked up the book on Ko Phangan in a seemingly-always empty store, on a stand offering used book refuse for 50 baht (less than 2 dollars).
I was surprised to find the popular Coelho book there and while I don’t always gravitate to his books, I’ve loved some and keep finding them everywhere. He shows up unexpectedly in my life, just like my travels over the last two years have yielded one unexpected thing after the next. So I took the book, amazed that the lady working there let me exchange it for my own book at no extra charge. The book was a quick read and offered many spiritual insights that weren’t new to me, but presented beautifully. I couldn’t help thinking, as I sat in class, what a synchronicity, that this story has come up twice in my life, within one week. And of course, my yoga teacher and Coelho do not believe in coincidences, which makes this even more interesting.
So, what is the story? A yogi wants to retreat to the woods to meditate and his guru tells him to take nothing. But he takes a loincloth in case he needs to go to town to beg for food. One night a mouse starts eating the loincloth and a townsman recommends he get a cat to eat mice. He does, and realizes he needs food for the cat. One thing leads to the next and soon he has a barn, animals, a wife and kids. But the story ends up going in two wildly different directions. My yoga teacher’s moral is that once you start collecting possessions it takes you on a dangerous path. In Coelho’s version, the yogi starts a meditation centre to help others in their spiritual practice; anything can have a positive outcome.
I want to heed both.
A Fruit for Every Season
There are a few fruit shake stands by the main food court area in Thongsala, the port town on Ko Phangan, one of Thailand’s favourite islands to do yoga. But there is unarguably the best stand. It’s not even because the service is better or for one of those ineffable reasons we are happy to leave alone as we enjoy what is prepared for us. The reason is clear: they offer, by far, the most fruit combinations (about 60). You order by number and the fruit are also depicted as animated images, so there the chances of language barrier complications happening are reduced to almost nothing. We had a few delicious shakes there without incident, but despite the friendliness of the girl and older man operating the stand, there have been two incidents that leave me wondering, not for the first time, what went wrong, and why. The first time was at night. Only an older Russian couple (I could source them after hearing them speak) was there with me, and they’d just arrived. I placed my order by pointing to the numbers listing the different shakes on the large menu. Then I started observing their fascination with the fruit shake phenomenon. They must have been new to Thailand. Through their gestures I understood that the husband was explaining to his wife that you can order any combination on the list, and started listing some of the fruit to her. She was intrigued but tentative, like the stand or she might set on fire if she moved closer. Eventually she honed in and said, Ah! She pointed directly to one combination that her husband explained to her (the fruits were depicted as somewhat hazy images): milk and tomato. I never noticed this combination before, and marveled at hour differently everyone’s brains work. Eventually they ordered (not the milk and tomato one). A couple of minutes later, the girl gave me my two shakes, but one was obviously not mine, because I ordered one with beet root, which turns shake a deep purple that mine clearly was not. I gave it back to her and told her the number I ordered in Thai. She repeated it back to me without any explanation. Finally she took the shake and started making a new one. Then, out of the corner of my eye I’m pretty sure I saw her give my wrong shake to the Russians, who didn’t know any better. If I’d known this would have happened, I would have taken the wrong shake so the newcomers to Thailand could enjoy the shake they ordered. The second incident: we ordered coconut/mint/passionrfruit, and got watermelon, which, strangely, isn’t one of the 60 fruit on the menu. Most importantly, I hope the Russian couple enjoys their stay on the island.